DISCLAIMER: Supernatural does not belong to me.
A/N: Late in coming, but here's my short story that takes place right after CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS. What can Sam say that might help?
For the last—Sam casually tilted his head back so he can catch the slowly rotating numbers on the dashboard—143 miles, silence had filled the car, broken only by the roar of the engine and the whistle of the wind through the windows that were cracked open. Stranger still, the radio was off. It only added as a reminder to the kind of silence that settled between the brothers.
Neither Winchester had spoken since Dean's roadside admission. They had only stayed there for a little under ten minutes. Dean had taken a deep breath, carelessly wiped his tears, smiled at Sam like nothing had happened, and got in the car.
It took Sam a little while longer to move. Not until Dean had impatiently gunned the engine while he was still leaning on the hood of the car. It was as sure a sign as any that Dean didn't want to dwell on things anymore. But not Sam…he was still stunned by Dean's uncharacteristic emotional outburst.
But that was the difference between them. Dean pushed things away or barged past them. Sam dwelt.
He wondered what his big brother was thinking at that moment. Hell, he had wondered what was going on through Dean's head for the last 97 minutes since they'd started back on the road. Yeah, 143 miles in 97 minutes. Dean drove like a speed demon.
Dean glanced casually at him, quirked a brow, sniffled a bit, but didn't say anything. Sometimes, it drove Sam mad trying to figure out what those little mannerisms meant. It was like Dean was gauging him, challenging him to bring things out in the open, then just as quickly, retreating back behind the wall of silence and unresponsiveness.
"You hungry, man?" asked Dean moments later, his deep, rough voice startling Sam out of his thoughts.
"Hungry. You know, hankerin' for some grub?"
Sam blinked. Food was the last thing on his mind right now. But, it was getting pretty dark, and he figured they oughta stop somewhere for a bit. Get their bearings and all. "Uh, sure. Anything's fine."
"We'll stop at the next exit then," decided Dean. "I'm thinkin' maybe some pancakes."
Sam looked at his brother, a mixture of exasperation and amusement on his lean face. "Pancakes for dinner, Dean?"
"Why the hell not?"
Sam shrugged. "Sounds fine. I guess, I can do pancakes."
There was a heart beat's silence.
"Pancakes is what I want, Sam," whispered Dean. "What do you want?"
Sam froze. A loaded question. Shit! He hated these little games Dean played. He had no idea if his answer should be "steak and potatoes" or "talk about what Dad did for you". He took a deep breath, released it slowly, then looked out his passenger window. "Pancakes are fine."
He looked at Dean's reflection on his window and noticed the slight tightening of his brother's hold on the steering wheel. "Good," was all Dean said.
Actually, it wasn't good at all. Sam berated himself for taking the easy way out. But he wasn't sure if he was ready to talk to Dean. After all, nothing he could possibly say could make things better for his brother, right?
He wanted to be able to say something fucking magical to fix Dean. But what the hell was he supposed to say? Nothing he could think of would cut it.
Silence fell between the brothers again.
Dean scanned the signs that they passed, looking for a decent place to stop. He preferred small towns to cities, but not truck stop towns. Those places always had the worst food. Not to mention, the dowdiest waitresses. Nothing to recommend them to a weary traveler that was for sure.
And if Dean had to admit anything, he'd admit that he was one pretty weary traveler.
His right knee was hurting, just above the kneecap. His calf was a little stiff. Hell, even his left leg was feeling a little achy. He hadn't moved his boot off the accelerator for, his eyes flickered over to the dashboard, 149 miles.
He took a deep breath and sighed it out heavily. He was just tired. Deep, down, bone-weary tired. The kind of tired that made a man feel heavy inside—the kind of heavy that made his foot refuse to let up on the accelerator for close to a couple of hours.
From the corner of his eye, he saw his brother glance warily at him. He swallowed and pursed his lips slightly. He didn't know what to say. He felt sorry for Sam—for what he'd put his brother through the past few weeks.
Worse, he felt sorry for ever telling Sam what he really felt about their Dad's death. Because like it or not, he knew that it was his fault. It was a knowledge that hung heavily around him. Maybe it was another reason he couldn't pull his foot off that accelerator until his leg was so stiff it felt like stone.
He should never have said anything. Never. It was only one more weight to put on Sam. Worse, it was only one more thing that he had to deal with, too. Somehow, putting his feelings into words just made them seem more real.
It made his anger burn darker. It made his guilt pierce harder. It made the hurt…well, it just made everything hurt. And there was one thing Dean really hated: He hated it when things hurt.
His jaw tightened, as a raw wave of anger, hurt, fear, guilt, and betrayal washed through him. He gripped the wheel, hit the accelerator harder, and slowly exhaled.
Sam's voice broke through his haze. His brother had said his name matter-of-factly, with little concern. Just bringing him back to reality. He thanked God for that. He didn't think he'd want Sam to go all…chick flick-y on him with his emo-tendencies.
Dean glanced over at Sam. There was concern in the brown eyes of his brother. There was sadness, too. But most of all, there was restraint. And that was what Dean needed the most. He needed his brother to just…let him deal.
Suddenly, his leg eased off the pedal, his eyes caught a sign on the road, and a small smirk tilted his lips. "You said pancakes, right?" he said, a smile on his voice. His tone was playful, making the pancake dinner sound like Sam's idea.
Sam gave him that look with the wrinkle brow and the slightly dropped jaw. It was his 'what-do-you-mean-me?' look. Dean chuckled. "Pancakes it is, little brother."
"Dean, it was your idea," muttered Sam.
And Dean remembered that Sam hated pancakes. This time he laughed and flipped the radio on, filling the car with the guitar riffs of Metallica.
"Well, at least it has two beds," commented Dean, his face twisted into a scorn. He eyed the two twin beds on opposites sides of the tiny motel room. He looked at Sam and his smirk widened into a grin. There was no way in hell his brother was gonna fit into one of those beds.
"Don't even start," muttered Sam grumpily, his eyes also on the small beds. "I mean, why even call them beds when they might as well be couches?"
"That's 'cuz you're a freak, Sam," chided Dean, still grinning. "To everyone else, those are beds."
Sam rolled his eyes at him. "I happen to have gotten all the good genes in the family," he retorted.
Dean sauntered into the room and snorted at his brother's comment. "Sorry, Sam, but you're not even half as pretty as me."
Sam tossed his backpack onto the far bed. "Pfft! Sure, keep telling yourself that."
"It's not me who says it," countered Dean. "It's the rest of the world. Who am I to go against popular opinion?" He quipped, then chucked several newspapers onto the lone, round table in the corner. He flipped on the lamp over it and sat down on the single chair.
Sam sprawled himself on the tiny bed, his legs hanging off the end. He knew it was useless to try to out-smart-ass his brother. Dean was the King of Smart-Asses. So, he sighed heavily and shut his eyes, just enjoying the fact that at least he could stretch his back. Too bad his legs were feeling a little unloved.
"Hey, Dean, I need that chair. Pull it up so that I can put my feet up on it." He called to his brother, arm over his eyes.
"Too bad, Sammy. My ass happens to be on it right now."
"Dean, c'mon!" Sam knew he was an inch to whining. He was tired from being the bait in their last zombie hunt. Tired from dealing with Dean's emotional unresponsiveness. Tired from sitting stiffly in the car because he was aware how tense Dean was.
His wrist hurt like hell, he had pancakes for dinner (which he almost gagged over), and his bed was too small. Least his brother could do was give him the damn chair to put his leg up on. "Deee-eaan!" Full-fledged whining now.
Dean still didn't say anything.
Finally, Sam threw his arm off his eyes and lifted his head enough to look at his brother. Dean's back was to him, hunched over several newspapers that they had picked up at the diner and every other local establishment. He was poring over headlines, obituaries, and everything in between. He was looking for their next hunt.
Sam clenched his jaw tightly, to prevent himself from yelling at Dean in exasperation. He counted to ten, making sure his voice was controlled and calm. "Dean, don't you think we ought to…take a break for a while?"
"Evil doesn't take a break, Sam," came his brother's stiff reply.
"Yeah…and last I checked, we aren't evil. We definitely need breaks, Dean. Stop that."
Dean didn't look up, didn't move. Didn't respond.
Sam waited a full minute before trying again. "Dean, I want that chair."
Suddenly, Dean stood up so quickly that the chair fell over with a loud crash. He turned his head and glared at Sam angrily, his green eyes flashing. "Fine! Take the damn chair, then!" he roared.
Sam was taken aback, his jaw falling in shock at his brother's outburst. He sat up quickly, but Dean was already grabbing his jacket, hand already around the doorknob.
"Where are you going?" he asked quickly.
"Somewhere where no one will take my chair," drawled Dean, just before he left, the door shutting half-way between a slam and…Dean's hand stopping it just before it actually slammed.
Sam fell back onto the bed, knowing that Dean didn't want him to follow. For the life of him, Sam didn't know what just happened. He couldn't understand it. He pulled up his sleeve and set the alarm on his watch to wake him up in a couple of hours. If Dean wasn't back by then, he'd go hunt his brother down and bring him back.
Other than that, there was nothing else to do but go to sleep.
Well, he needed the chair first.
Dean crept into their hotel room quietly. He was slightly more relaxed, owing to a couple of bottles of beer and a little time spent with Jeanette, the cocktail waitress. There was something to be said about being the handsome one in the family, that was for sure.
He could see Sam's outline, already half-falling off the tiny bed. His eyes noted that Sam had really dragged the chair to the end of his bed—too bad it was no longer being used, considering how his brother had flipped onto his stomach and had one leg and one arm on the floor.
Drooling, too, I bet, he thought with a small sense of affection.
At that moment, Sam looked like he used to when he slept. Like those days when Dean used to sit by his bedside, a small revolver tucked under the cushion of his chair, keeping a vigil. Those days were long gone.
He had to admit, the moment Sam had outgrown him, literally and figuratively, he'd felt a little lost. It wasn't his job to watch over Sammy anymore, because Sammy had become bigger and stronger. But through the years, it became clear how defined their roles had actually become when they were little.
Even as adults, Sam still looked at him like he used to when he was five: with eyes that trusted him completely.
But since Dad had died, well, Sam had started looking at him differently. He had started looking at Dean with fear. Loathing, sometimes. He no longer trusted Dean's decisions and actions.
And maybe, that was why Dean had told him about what was eating him inside. To justify why Sam shouldn't trust him anymore. He was guilty of their father's death. He didn't deserve this third chance to live. How many people never even got a second chance? Yet here he was, living, breathing, too fucking healthy for his own good, and he was supposed to have died long ago.
How many people had to sacrifice their lives for him, anyway?
He was afraid that maybe, Sam would be next. His life certainly wasn't worth half of Sam's. His brother was a much better person than Dean ever could be. To Sam, caring about others came easy. Even with all that they'd seen in their lives, Sam still wanted to believe in good things.
For a while there, all Dean wanted to do was destroy everything good inside of him, so that he would stop carrying a conscience and feeling so fucking awful. But it never worked. One look at Sam, and he felt ten times worse. The thing was, he could never hate Sam for it.
Dean sank down to sit on his bed, leaning his elbows on his knees. He was doing a fuck-up job of his job. But it hurt so much inside, that even that momentary loss of control, that moment where he killed off the bad guy of the week…that moment was almost worth going into the darkness. Because for a moment, he didn't hurt so much.
The only thing that kept him coming back was Sammy. Because Sammy stopped looking at him the way he used to. Because Sammy looked at him like he was a monster. Because Sammy was afraid of him.
And even underneath all that, he could see that Sam still needed him.
"Dean, you'll always be there, won't you?" A memory of a curly-haired, six-year-old boy with trusting brown eyes looked up at him. "It's always gonna be you and me, right?"
"Yeah, Sammy. I'll always be there."
"You promise, Dean?"
Sammy had smiled that funny smile because he had just lost his two front teeth. "Good. Cuz I'm not scared when you're around. I can sleep better."
"Then go to sleep, Sammy. I'll be here."
Dean shut his eyes as the memory burned into him. His jaw clenched as he remembered his father's final, whispered words.
"Oh, God, Dad…" he murmured, as tears filled his eyes. "I'm so sorry…I never asked…but you knew…"
A tiny beeping started and was immediately turned off as a groggy voice came from behind him. He froze, holding his breath, stopping his tears.
"Dean, that you?" Sam croaked sleepily. He heard more beeps as his brother continued pressing on his watch, turning off the alarm setting.
"Yeah, I'm back." He replied hoarsely, hoping Sam didn't notice the tears in his voice.
He heard his brother yawn loudly. "Good. I sleep better knowing you're there."
Dean couldn't help but smile at that. "Then go to sleep, Sammy." He replied.
There was a moment's pause, and he heard the rustling of sheets as Sam tried to find a better position on the tiny bed. "Dean, I'll be here, too," whispered Sam, and Dean couldn't help but think that they were remembering the same memory. "You can go to sleep, too."
Dean looked over his shoulder, to find that Sam was leaning on one elbow, looking at him in the dark. He was frowning a bit, but Sam was a frowner, anyway. He expressed his emotions through different kinds of frowns, and Dean just smiled wider at that knowledge. "Yeah, I'll do that," he murmured, and kicked off his shoes.
He laid himself flat on his bed, arms crossed over his chest, staring at the ceiling. He could tell that Sam still hadn't moved, maybe was struggling with what he had to say. "Dean?"
Dean closed his eyes and prepared himself for whatever emotional bomb Sam wanted to drop. "Whatever it is, Sam, if it's got 'sorry', or anything emo like that, I don't wanna hear it," he said dismissively.
But his brother wouldn't be laid off-track. "Don't blame yourself because Dad loved you," he whispered into the dark. "And…don't…don't blame yourself because I needed you around."
Dean didn't respond. He didn't move at all. His whole body had gone numb from the shock. His throat constricted, and he very quietly swallowed past the lump that had formed there. To be honest, if it had been his Dad or Sam who had lain dying…he would have done the same thing for them. Without a second thought. Because he loved them. He never thought it was about that.
Dean had always known that his family needed him. That was all they ever wanted from him: to be there. But he never thought of himself as loved.
Maybe…just maybe…that was worth living his third chance at life for.
He took a deep breath, then grunted out a response. "Yeah? Anything else, Sam? 'Cuz like you said, we need to take a break…and I can sleep when you're around," he said, keeping his voice light.
There was a silence that even Dean would call pregnant without snickering. It was like Sam was weighing his words. Finally, he heard his brother sigh heavily, "Nah. That's it. 'Night, Dean."
"'Night, Sam," he replied, grateful that Sam had decided to leave it at that. All he needed to know was that. He was loved; that was enough. "And Sam? We're taking you to see the doctor tomorrow for that wrist. You break too easily."